Arriving in Galway city on Friday evening, head straight out to explore the area that is soon to be the European Capital of Culture (in 2020). Take an evening stroll along the Salthill Promenade that flanks the northern shore of Galway Bay, stopping at the iconic Blackrock diving tower to breathe in some fresh Atlantic air. When you’ve worked up a hunger, make your way back to the trademark narrow streets of the city centre and amble to Anair – a Michelin-starred, terroir-based restaurant in the West End of the city – for dinner. (If you’d rather a more low-key meal, try The Dough Bros for some delicious wood-fired pizza.)
Afterwards, head to O’Connell’s bar in Eyre Square for an incredible pint of Guinness and some night-time people watching. For accommodation, we recommend you treat yourself to a stay at the luxury g Hotel designed by Galwegian milliner extraordinaire, Philip Treacy. And if you’re feeling especially flush, the Linda Evangelista Suite boasts a super king bed – the frame of which apparently once belonged to Linda Evangelista – plus panoramic views of Lough Atalia and the city skyline.
Aran Islands: 1 hour drive, 40 minute ferry crossing
If you want to max out your time in the ‘City of Tribes’, rise early to be among the first arrivals at Galway Market in Church Lane – a weekend market that has been in operation in the city for centuries. Walk among the stands and chat to local traders, and when your stomach starts growling, either grab a life-changing doughnut from the Boychik’s Donuts stand or cross the river and seek out Pura Vida coffee house on Quay Lane for their fabled Irish breakfast.
Drive to the port at Rossaveel* and catch the 10.30am Aran Island Ferry (pre-booking advised) to Inis Mór, the largest of Galway Bay’s Aran Islands. Rent a bike and spend the day absorbing the island’s stunning scenery and remoteness – the limestone pavements of the Glaciokarst landscape; the arctic, alpine and Mediterranean plant life; the much-loved seal colony; the prehistoric Dún Aonghasa hill fort, standing at the edge of one of the island’s dramatic cliff faces; and Clochan na Carraige, a well-preserved ancient island dwelling. Finish the day off with a visit to Joe Watty’s, a traditional Irish pub with an open fire.
Back on the mainland, eat dinner in Ard Bia at Nimmos – an ultra-hip eatery in the city’s Spanish Arch area with fantastic food to boot – and then head to the Róisín Dubh, a local favourite bar and club that is also one of Ireland’s best live music venues.
1 hour 30 minute drive
After breakfast, set out north on the N59 for Connemara National Park* – a sprawling 2,957-hectare expanse of colourful Irish bog, mountain peaks, grasslands and woodlands that has been known to be the highlight of a tour of the entire country for some travellers. Walk one or more of the four Diamond Hill trails, making sure to stop and take photographs of the stunning views along the way. Once you’ve had your fill of the abundant natural beauty here, drive the few minutes to the historic Kylemore Abbey and explore its Benedictine monastery and walled Victorian gardens, or have a bite to eat at the Tea House.
End your time in Galway back in the city, with a traditional Irish music session at Tig Coili pub on Mainguard Street.